YOU don’t rose-tinted glasses to be able to remember the way in which the local High Street used to thrive. The pavements were lined with shoppers, streets were busy with cars, the shops and stores catered for every need. It was the social centre of every town.

But times have changed. Hands have been wrung over the hollowing-out of many high streets and town centres. Big retail names have packed up and, in many cases, relocated to malls and retail parks that offer modern stores and facilities, and generous car-parking.

Thousands of jobs have disappeared as one chain after another has foundered, Wilko being merely the latest dispiriting example. Online shopping coupled with declining or flat-lining local affluence have exacted a heavy price. In some high streets, the boarded-up units include premises that were formerly occupied by pound shops, which surely tells its own story.

How to save Scotland's struggling high streets and urban centres

Dame Sharon White, chair of the John Lewis Partnership, which owns John Lewis and Waitrose, said last week that 6,000 shops in Britain had closed over the last five years. Too many towns and cities were pale shadows of their old selves; banks and post offices had vanished, replaced by what she described as “seemingly endless rows of vaping and charity shops” (the Charity Retail Association, understandably nettled, responded that charity shops were less a symptom of High Street decline than part of the solution to it).

East Kilbride £100million redevelopment plan revealed

High streets, Dame Sharon continued, “risk becoming a looting ground for emboldened shoplifters and organised gangs”. She has called for a royal commission review into Britain’s ailing high streets.

It’s a timely and sensible idea, one to be added to the many reports and think-tanks that have already addressed the issue in detail. High streets have been urged to wean themselves off their dependence on retail and to focus instead on attracting pubs, restaurants, cinemas, leisure centres and education facilities, and turning existing buildings into much-needed housing. The creation of more homes in Glasgow city centre is part of the ambitious plans to demolish and redevelop St Enoch Centre and Buchanan Galleries.

In Scotland, a pioneering solution has now arisen in East Kilbride, the country’s oldest New Town, where a “radical” masterplan aims to redevelop its rundown town centre. Those behind the plan speak of redefining its function as a town, serving the needs of its population first and taking the emphasis away from retail.

More than a third of the existing shopping centre will be demolished, with retail being reduced by 42% to make way for hundreds of new homes, a hotel, shops and a civic space in a project in which the final bill could reach £100 million.

Bold plans for Scotland's new towns should be embraced

Joe Fagan, leader of South Lanarkshire Council, is commendably blunt when he observes that East Kilbride town centre has a choice of two futures – radical change or radical decline. There is no future for the town having Europe’s biggest indoor shopping centre when half-a-million square feet lies vacant, he said: parts of the town centre need to be flattened, so that something new could emerge.

Such talk is relatively rare and indicates the sheer scale of the task ahead as well as the long overdue need to bring about change. The East Kilbride plan will necessarily take years to come to full fruition, and the final bill might yet be increased, but it is a step in the right direction.

As is (though on a considerably more modest scale) the news that a former butcher’s shop in Ayr is to be turned into a piece of immersive art by the internationally renowned Scottish artist, Rachel Maclean. Described as “a timely response to the crisis facing many high streets across the country”, Ms Maclean's installation takes the form of a surreal toy shop where nothing is for sale.

The transformation is the work of JUPITER+, Jupiter Artland’s nation-wide art and creative learning programme. A second unoccupied retail unit in the town centre is to be converted into a green-screen film studio and flexible creative learning and event space.

Ayr to host High Street 'crisis' art installation in vacant shop

Could culture be the salvation of our high streets? In Paisley, Renfrewshire Council and OneRen, the council's culture arm, are seeking a "once in a generation" level of investment in the area's cultural hubs.

There is no shortage of good ideas. Even those that start small, such as the one in Ayr, can be a gradual catalyst for longer-term change. Across the board it will take imaginative solutions proposed by the public and private sectors, and the ability to raise funds. The public could be invited to suggest ideas, too, so that a local feel is encouraged. Commercial rents could be tweaked to aid existing businesses. Could local tourism assets be exploited in order to bring new life to high streets?

For some town centres, the sobering fact is that change may come too late. But concerted and far-sighted action is needed to ensure that we are not left with a nation of ghost towns.